Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Ants Go Marching By

There is a small army that marches, day in and day out, up and down the sidewalk behind our house.

Red ants, march and march and march. All day. Every day.

These are not fire ants, but some kind of leaf cutter ant. Here is the opening to their underground nest.

The ants wind through the grass, creating paths with their million feet march.

Most homeward bound ants carry pieces of leaves many times bigger than their bodies. Other ants carry pieces of sticks or even other dead insects. Once, I saw two ants, believe it or not, working together to carry a dead bee. It was amazing.

If you start at the mouth of their nest, you can follow their path backwards to see where they are coming from and where they are going.

Up the sidewalk, along the edge Phoebe has nicknamed the "bacon", the ants march in a single file line.

10, 20, 30, 40 feet up the sidewalk, and the ants never vary from their marching line by more than a few inches.

All the way up to their destination: This tree of unknown species.

On the ground beneath and surrounding the tree are hundreds of small, cut pieces of leaves. A few ants scurry around these piles collecting their choice piece of leaf.

But most of the ants keep on going, climbing up the tree, as their march continues on.

The ants carrying leaves march down to join the queue heading toward the nest. Other ants without leaves, march up the tree, heading to the leafy branches overhead.

Once reaching the branches, the ants veer off from one main line, some ants heading this way, others heading that way.

It's like they know where they're going!

When they find their leaf of choice, they use their serrated teeth to cut off small, oval shaped pieces of leaf.

Then, while holding their leaf cutting over their heads, they head back down the tree, across the grass, down the sidewalk, and into their nest.

In this tree, above my head, millions of ants march, chew, and carry in an endless parade of survival.

Right over my head.

I think I'll step back now. Come one, Phoebe, before the wind picks up and it starts raining ants!

Isn't the life of an ant interesting? How do they do it? How do they know where to go, what leaf to cut, who to follow?

I'm tired just thinking about it!